Last Night's TV: My Big Fat Royal Gypsy Wedding/Channel 4
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – the True Story/BBC4
Rock & Chips/BBC1
Friday 29 April 2011
Far be it for me to hog all the exclusives, but there's a, uh, wedding on the go. Something to do with the royals, you know, Wills and Kate, love story of the century etc etc. In case you hadn't noticed – entirely possible, of course, because it's all been terribly under the radar – the television gods have been offering a few (subtle) hints. We've had When Kate Met William: a Tale of Two Lives (ITV1), William and Kate: the Story So Far (Channel 5), Kate and William: Romance and the Royals (Channel 4). On Wednesday night we were given the dubious honour of watching Giles Coren and Sue Perkins in fancy dress in Giles & Sue's Royal Wedding (BBC2). Naturally, there was one thing remaining: My Big Fat Royal Gypsy Wedding.
It's obvious what Channel 4 was thinking. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has become something of a phenomenon, with its winning brand of sneering spectatorism, part freak show, part self-justifying look inside an otherwise closed community. It started as a one-off documentary and returned as a regular feature. Gypsy weddings – or Traveller weddings, as they're more tactfully termed throughout everything but the title – are elaborate, contradictory affairs, suffused with Victorian values trussed up in Wag's clothing. The bride wears an iceberg, the guests wear – well – precisely the opposite of what most would choose for a day out at the chapel. No pastel hues or floral prints here. Neon shades, massive skin-bearing cutaways, the kind of nine-inch heels more often seen wrapped around a Perspex pole than plunged into summer gardens.
Anyway, it all makes for rather unsatisfying viewing. There's little probing. Who pays for all the grandeur, and how, one wonders, but no one's ever asked. There's no challenging of the society's patriarchy, no look at how some modernities were embraced (pop music, slang, copious fake-baking) and others shunned (co-habitation, education, work outside the home). And yet it was inevitable that a royal wedding special should be made. Who could resist the high/low comparisons, the added superiority afforded by the contrast with those well-known paragons of good taste, the modern royals (or not)?
The thing is, it's all a little shotgun. It's hard to escape the feeling that this is just MBFGW with an R tagged on for good measure. Thelma, the Travellers' favourite dressmaker, had been tasked with organising the whole thing: cake, venue, dress studded with forty-thousand crystals. "She has just three weeks," intoned our narrator, "to organise a wedding that will rival William and Kate's." And yet there's nothing particularly royal wedding-ish about Mary and Paddy's big day. There's no royal wedding theme. No aristocratic yearnings. The bride wasn't even called Kate. Couldn't they have found someone called Kate?
Cheeringly, for all we're meant to have a knowing laugh at their expense, our young couple emerged triumphant. "How does it compare to the royal wedding?" the guests were asked on their way out. "It's better, obviously," said one. "The royal wedding will be all dry. Champagne and rich stuff. Here we can have a bit of a laugh." Quite so.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – the True Story, we got a look at the life of the author L Frank Baum, and jolly interesting it proved too. It was, in many ways, as eventful as the book itself. Baum, it turns out, was an irrepressible fellow, so much so that he would drive his wife to distraction by awaking in the night, an idea in his head, and jotting it down on the wallpaper.
For her part, she was a staunch feminist, from staunch feminist stock. Her mother fought for women's rights, moving in next door to the couple when they lived in South Dakota so as to campaign on the Western front. For Baum, who grew up in a household with two older sisters, the influence of all these strong women proved instrumental: witness the determination demonstrated by his famous heroine.
The Oz books were, in many ways, the first truly American fairy tales. Free of the goblins, fairies and monarchies of European lore, the Wizard of Oz, reasoned Baum, would "represent America to the world". Not that it was easy. Before becoming a bestselling writer, Baum tried his hand at a host of pursuits, from sales to newspapers to acting and retail, with varied success. He ended his life much as he spent it: a failed venture into musical theatre and then film drained him of much of the wealth Dorothy had bequeathed. He muddled through, though never quite managed to see Dorothy done justice on the big screen. He died in 1919, 20 years before MGM brought it to life in glorious Technicolor.
John Sullivan's death gave added poignancy to last night's Rock & Chips, the occasional series of prequels to his masterpiece, Only Fools and Horses. As with earlier instalments, it was carried by a combination of nostalgia and charm (though not, it's fair to say, ground-breaking comedy). It was all there: the soundtrack – Buddy Holly followed by Chubby Checker followed by The Marvelettes followed by The Shirelles – the hammy performances, the jokes so subtle they could double as sledgehammers. The best bit came when the young Del Boy took posh girl Barbara out for dinner. "Waiter," he called out, on inspecting his plate of fish. "I think you've dropped a bit of lemon on my fish." "That's garnish," said the waiter. "Oh no – I think you'll find it's lemon."
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